Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The value of practice

Having been played music since I was seven (and I won’t tell you how many years ago that was!), I’ve spent a lifetime practising. Now when you’re talking music, everyone is aware of how essential practising a musical instrument is to eventual success. Even the self-taught “genius” musician spent a ton of hours in some lonely room working on his/her craft. That beautiful playing you hear on recordings or live performances came with a huge commitment of time.

Okay, if you examine my opening paragraph, you’ll notice two phrases that should resonate with all writers: “a ton of hours” and “lonely room”. Don’t we pretty well do the same thing when we practise our craft?

There is one big difference between writing and playing an instrument: perfecting one’s instrumental technique is very much athletic training. The practising musician is developing muscles that are needed in order to play the instrument. But couldn’t we say that writers are developing their mental “muscles” when they work?

I find that when I’m writing on a daily basis that the process becomes easier. I don’t believe I’m alone in this. A flow and rhythm starts to happen. I may not write any better, but the sentences certainly do come out easier.

For the past several months, time to write regularly has been difficult to find. Life has very much gotten in the way. We all go through that. It’s been bugging me, though, because when I do find time to sit down and spend a few hours with my imaginary friends, they often remain obstinately silent.

Then, for the past three weeks, I’ve had some writing deadlines that had to be met. I could hear the proverbial gun being cocked next to my head. Again I sat down to work, had little success and began to despair. One day, taking some time out to get my warm-ups done on French horn, it suddenly dawned on me how I might relate instrumental practice to getting my writing kick-started.

So, finishing up with the horn, I just started writing with no goal in mind. It was a scene where a character with no name and no physical attributes walks into a house where the front door was open. It was just a page or two of description and basically turned into a writing exercise in building suspense, I guess. I tried another scene, this time a bit of dialogue between two vague people on a train. Was any of it any good? That wasn’t the point. I was practising writing.

I did this for another day or two, gradually circling in on what I needed to be writing. The creative juices began flowing and I segued easily into my task, finishing what needed to be done in a matter of three days.

I guess the point of this post is that, as writers, we need to constantly be exercising our writing muscles. Like playing an instrument, you can’t expect to do your best if you’re only doing it in fits and starts.


Eve said...

Rick, this was exactly what I needed to hear today. I know all about the value of practice, but now and then I forget. Off to practice now. Thank you again.

Rick Blechta said...

My pleasure to help, Eve. I cannot believe it took me so long to realize this simple little fact. Sometimes I amaze myself with how dense I can be.

Off to practise myself!

John the Tomahawk Trembath said...

Thanks,Rick. So very true. All life's work need practice. What you said of music I know well. Practicing is very unsocial but has to happen. We get better at what we work at. Now back to practicing.

Donis Casey said...

YOu can study music until you have a PhD in theory, but unless you practice until your fingers bleed, you'll never be a virtuoso. Same with writing, I think.

H. L. Banks said...

What wonderful words and I'm going to take them to my writing as it can be so discouraging when nothing comes. Thanks for the post.

Rick Blechta said...

To everyone who wrote in, many thanks. If I helped anyone along, that's great. We're all in this together, aren't we?

Keep writing!

And John, you keep practising that cello. We'll use it as inspiration and accompaniment as we write.

Greys Anatomy Episode Guide said...

practice is the only way to improve and make it better and perfect though sometimes we're to preoccupied with excellence and expertise that we forgot to spend a few minutes to practice, we still need it though